Tag Archives: middle class blues

Dude, Where is My Occupation?

21 Aug

Another guest post for the Formerly Middle Class series I have been randomly working on this summer, today’s poster asked to remain anonymous since they are someone that I know personally and we have shared friends and colleagues.

 Economy got you down? Realizing you are only holding onto middle class status by a thin string? Feel free to drop me a line at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you! As for me, I am enjoying the last few days of summer break with my son so posting is not a priority at the moment but I will be back soon.

 

One of the things I find as someone who used to consider myself middle class (and now often struggles to get a payment in before the power company shuts off my services) is that as the economy has tanked, so has the regard for certain skilled professions. Including my own. Which, as you can imagine, cuts into my income and propels me even farther from being truly middle class in terms of income.

We see this with non-profits that need skilled college-educated folks, which struggle to find funding now (whether from grants or private donors or otherwise) and get swept aside, leaving gaps in necessary areas like aiding the homeless, providing health services to the poor, giving educational services to those who need them, etc. And leaving a bunch of people who were probably barely middle class to begin with without jobs at all.

We see it with consultants who, while I often make fun of (because they seem to make a lot for doing very little sometimes), no longer find it as easy to locate companies willing to pay them for their insights and opinions.

We see it with PhDs who now must go find trades or do hourly work in fast food or gas stations or something because getting a job in a university, much less tenure, is harder than finding a virgin in Hollywood or Miami.

We see it in journalism and other writing/editing venues (and this is the area in which I work), where companies and organizations are less willing to pay for people who know what they are doing, and are more willing to let people with no experience (but who have lots of time because they’re out of work or stay at home/work at home spouses) take up the task. And then I see these very same people popping up on discussion boards asking other people how to find sources, locate critical information and otherwise put together a story, something I’ve spent more than 20 years mastering.

And so on.

There are no “safe” occupations. There are no truly “recession-proof” jobs. Sure, there will always be a need for IT folks because we are so computer- and Internet-dependent. Yes, people will always have a need for nurses or plumbers or electricians. But any occupation can find itself in a position where people will forestall paying for services from those folks or where there might one day be a glut of workers in the field relative to the jobs available.

I also realize that at the layers above and below the middle-class, there are professional occupations, trades, working class jobs, and others where people have been hard hit.

But the difference is that above the middle class level, chances are you have more resources to tap for longer to weather the storm. Or you have better stuff to sell and then downsize your lifestyle to something more manageable. You will also likely be cast in a better light when you go looking for loans and such to restart your life.

And below the middle class level, while it is no cake-walk by any means, there are services, private or public, to catch you more often. The closer you get to being truly poor, the more likely you can get things like healthcare (maybe for your kid if not for yourself), food and other essentials from agencies or programs of one sort or another.

But in the middle class, it has too long been assumed that we’re all OK. But the fact is that most of us didn’t notice the slow erosion of our career areas. Nor truly appreciate how our benefits, if we had company-based jobs, were being whittled away so that our minuscule raises really amounted to decreases in our real income year after year after year.

What I find, for better or worse, is more than a little resentment that I have been part of a socioeconomic class that provides the lion’s share of tax revenue in this nation and has for a very, very long time, and yet I am one of the people who has to go through the most hoops to get help and be among the least likely to receive a break.

And now, I find myself with a career I am no longer certain I can rely on solely (or maybe even pursue long-term), wondering if regaining my “middle class status” is even a realistic notion anymore. I know I’m not alone in this, and I wonder how many of us who once thought ourselves solidly middle class now face the very real possibility that we may need to pursue the less-lucrative trade jobs or the kind of jobs that once were the purview of high school and college students, just to keep ourselves out of the poorhouse.

How come we don’t talk about money?

10 Aug

If you are a regular reader at my little space here, you have probably noticed that I talk about money and things related to money an awful lot…in part because it seems very few of us really talk money. I mean the economy is in the shitter, jobs being lost left and right, health-care costs rising and if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance, what does it really cover?

Yet I noticed that very few of us really talk about money in real terms. I am talking its 4 days before payday, you know your credit cards are close to the brink and that your checking account has about $37 in it and you need milk, eggs, bread and gas. A friend calls you up and says lets get together for lunch or drinks; you know deep in your heart you need to say no because you are broke but do you say no? Or do you just go out, enjoy the meal hand over the plastic and wait to get the notice that you have overdrawn your account again.

Me, I tell the truth and say catch me after I get paid but I know a lot of folks who will mention bank fees and sometimes even bounced check fees to me. In many cases friends tell me its because they forgot to enter the receipts. Really? Am I the only person who generally knows what’s in my bank account at all times even without entering the receipts? Or is that just a convenient excuse for not saying the truth which is I am tight on cash.

Its funny because in my work with folks on the fringe of society, they are upfront about saying they are broke and often with no shame. Instead its folks in the various levels of the middle class who seems to find creative excuses for not talking about money. Now I recently posed this question why don’t we talk money and someone said because its no one else’s business…true enough. Yet with all that is going on economically in this country, most of us are feeling it one way or another. I cannot help thinking if we talked money, maybe we could better share resources in a way that would aid all of us.

Call me crazy but if we talked money, maybe folks would know which banks are better on fees, maybe we wouldn’t feel compelled to grab a coffee or meal when our wallet says a walk would be our better option. In a nation where we talk openly about so many things why are we so hesitant to talk about money in all shapes and forms and specifically when we are struggling? I cannot help but think that the reason previous generations weathered financial storms better is because maybe they were more open to talking money instead of feeling the need to put on airs and graces.

So what say you….do you talk about your financial situation with friends or is secret? If so, why or why not? Just curious.

Guest post: What Is This? Bizarro World?

4 Aug

Today’s post is brought to you by Deacon Blue of Holy Shit from Deacon Blue, he answered the call I put out a few weeks ago to hear from folks who are being impacted daily by this crazy economy,what follows is raw and open and a place I think many of us are in if we were to be honest. Thanks Deacon for being so open and sharing with us.  If anyone else wants to write about their struggles with the economy, I would love to have a guest post…hit me up at blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com.

My dad spent his entire career in blue-collar work, as a union electrician. There is no doubt that he spent most of that career, and all of my truly formative years, in the middle class.

I have a college education that I’m still paying for (and that my mom and dad helped pay for as well), a white-collar career, and I would call myself anything but middle class. In fact, I think this year I officially started skirting the “poor” category.

Oh, hell, who am I kidding? I’m on a state health-care plan now because my income has dropped so low. My family could, technically, qualify for one of those food cards that replaced the food stamps of old. The main reason I haven’t taken advantage of that is that, unlike with health-care, I still CAN afford food, and I’m not about to take from a program that other people still need more than me.

I find myself fearing at times that my dad, who has owned multiple houses in his life (and for some years has owned at least two, renting out one of them) must think I’m sort of idiot slacker. And he’s made enough hints and mentions that I must be doing something wrong with my spending or budgeting.

It irks me. Sometimes because he’s right. But mostly because he just doesn’t get it. And frankly, neither do many of my peers, some of whom are in similar straits as myself.

As I look back, I can see where shit started to fall apart for the middle class. After World War II, the middle class was created. Men and women (mostly men) who worked good paying jobs and got family benefits and eventually retirement benefits. They were able to buy homes, invest money and send their kids to college.

And then it began to fall apart, as more and more, those college educated kids found that they weren’t doing the jobs they supposedly got educated to do, and weren’t getting paid like their parents were. No, instead of defined work hours and hourly income, decent benefits, and overtime pay, we got salaries and some very fluid and changeable benefits. We had to work past normal work times, often with no compensation at all (except maybe “comp days,” which don’t exactly pay any bills). We were expected to give and give and give, but nobody compensated us adequately for what we did. And as the economy has globalized and now as the economy has begun to flounder, we are also expendable…or held hostage to our jobs, expected to do EVEN MORE, with even less compensation.

In essence, we were sold a bill of goods, and now if we say we don’t want to be worked to death for little pay and sometimes no benefits, we are told we aren’t team players. We aren’t hungry enough. We aren’t dedicated.

Welcome to Bizarro World.

Just a junkie…news junkie that is

28 Oct

Nope, I couldn’t do it. I could not go 24 hours ignoring the news, this morning when I woke up, I automatically turned on NPR as I do every morning to wake up. Let’s just say by the time I remembered I was taking a hiatus from the news, I had already listened for at least 20 minutes…oh well.

However I was listening to coverage from a McCain rally in some town and nearly fell out the bed when I heard a woman state that she felt that most people were economically just as well off now as they were eight years ago when Bush took office therefore she was a McCain-Palin woman because we didn’t need Obama’s socialist ways. Um…. are there really people that silly that they live in a vacuum where they don’t realize that economically most of us are beyond fucked.

I don’t know about you but eight years ago, the spousal unit and I had amazing jobs that paid well, we had great health insurance that didn’t even cost us $100 a month yet we had medical/dental and vision coverage. The mister and I used to take weekend jaunts, had no problem paying our bills and overall were leading a pretty charmed life financially speaking that is. Let’s see in the last eight years, I have obtained a masters degree and expected my earnings to go up instead compared to where we were eight years ago, we have lost an estimated $40,000 since that time…yes, you read that. We have lost $40,000 compared to where we were eight years ago. Oh, did I mention that we had no debt eight years ago.

I suspect we are not the only people who are suffering under the Bush regime, nice middle-class Americans who have one foot dangling in the middle class box but slowly spiraling into the lower class despite all the guarantees that education used to bring that one would be financially sound.

See, I am a news junkie and I know Americans are hurting and it scares me that there are folks voting who seem to not give a damn that their fellow Americans are in dire straits, you know good hard working folks who work hard but no longer get ahead.

I just don’t get why people fear the idea of many of us having access to health insurance, or the idea that if one earns $250,000 or above that you should pay more in taxes. A fellow blogger, OG spoke at length about this the other day, but to me it should be only common sense that if I have more than enough that I can spare a little to help out my fellow man.  The irony being that many of the folks yelling the loudest about wealth redistribution claim to be Christians and well if they had actually read their bibles they would know that Jesus was all about helping folks out. I won’t claim to know the mind of Jesus but I suspect if he was here with us, I don’t think he would be too happy with these tight asses who would deny their fellow man access to basic needs.

So while I broke my promise to myself to watch the news, maybe its important to stay tuned less I become one of the idiots wandering our countryside living in a bubble oblivious to the plight of others.

Healthcare a right, a privilege or a responsibility

8 Oct

Health care has been on my mind a lot for the past several days and it really hit home when I watched a bit of the debate last night and heard McCain and Obama speak on the issue.

See, I have a confession to make, I am a college educated, middle class person with no health insurance which makes the fact that I might be facing some health issues pretty damn scary in our current climate. Back when the spousal unit and I lived in Chicago and had traditional jobs, almost 7 years ago we had good employer sponsored heath coverage, at that time our cost was minimum and the care was excellent. However things changed when we moved to Maine and started down the road to self employment, we bought our own coverage but the only thing we could reasonably afford was a high deductible policy because Maine is a screwy state when it comes to health insurance. (long story short, because insurers here can’t turn down folks all but 2 companies pretty much pulled out the state so the only real company providing coverage is Anthem and it ain’t cheap)

Now the high deductible policy wasn’t too bad up until last year when our income nosedived and in order to meet our mortgage and other critical expenses we had to let the insurance go. We hadn’t planned to be a year without health insurance but I had no idea that I wouldn’t land another gig soon, instead ending up going the self employment route myself which means our income has peaks and valleys coupled with the fact that expenses like heating our house and food costs have soared.

Reality is there are millions of Americans out there like us and most of the time we don’t share our story, since who wants to admit to not having health insurance especially when you are a respectable member of society. Instead we hide that fact but no more, perhaps more folks like me will speak up which is how I will now get back to the presidential candidates plans on health care.

Truthfully we are a point that if it were up to me we would have some form of universal coverage yet I know right now its not going to happen. Now McCain wants to offer a credit so folks can buy the coverage they want, problem is and I guess when a man has 7-8 homes he has no basis in reality but true family coverage in my state on the current open market would cost me $13,000 a year, yes $13,000 a year!! That means that funky ass $5000 credit I heard mention of wouldn’t do jack aside from the fact that how would I afford the monthly premium until I get my tax credit? See, these folks don’t know what real life is like, if you are just keeping the food on the table and the bills paid an extra $1000 a month ain’t easy to come by.

Now Obama wants to make it that all children must be covered which I agree should happen but unless he raises the income requirements so that more middle families can get their kids covered the by the SCHIP program, it means imsurance is still gonna be hard to come by for my darlings.

Guess my problem is the policymakers and folks with ideas are just too damn removed from reality, I know my Obama started off broke but at times I do feel its clear that its a been a while since my boy had to sit and do the bill shuffle. You know who can I put off now to pay later.

Folks, when did we stop caring about one another? Or did we ever really care about each other? Health care should be a basic fucking right, as someone staring down health problems its a scary thought to think if my problem is not as small as I am hoping I could die because I am too fucking rich to get state coverage and too poor to afford a plan. All that said, I am biting the bullet and hoping to get coverage that starts next month (of course a definitive diagnosis if its a major issue could be bad because then there is that pesky pre-existing clause but we will cross that bridge when we get there), have no idea how to pay for the premiums but I have gotten good with the juggling act so I will just have to juggle a few more balls.

I think its also important to remember that the economic tides are changing so fast in this country that the distance between middle class and comfortable and middle class and scraping is really not that far of a drive these days. In fact it might only be a 5 minute walk to middle class and scrapping…

Middle-Class Blues… can you feel me?

2 Oct

I been in a tad bit of a funk for a couple days now, I suspect it was brought on by the fact that elder boy who is a high school junior revealed his list of colleges he in interested in attending. I asked him to start with a list of 10 schools, now he is nowhere near ready to make a career choice but he likes writing and theatre so I suggested some good liberal arts programs. The list he presented included schools like Oberlin, NYU, Colgate, University of Vermont and some other fine institutions. Well being a parent and the person who will need to pay a good chunk of the bills, I decided to look at the websites for these schools and get an idea of how much they costs.

Why did I do that? I swear I have had a case of heartburn ever since, the cheapest school on his list with room and board and since he can’t commute 4 hours each day to Vermont is $27,000 tution alone plus with room and board almost $40,000. Gulp… The other schools average between $48,000-51,000 annually with room and board. Um, hello… When the fuck did college get so high? Shit, fours years at any of these schools will make the $100,000 in students loans I have for both my BA and M.Ed seem like chump change.

Now for a moment a sista was wondering if she should rethink her position on plastic surgery and go get a boob job and tummy tuck and start a new career as a stripper. I’m almost 36 yet most folks still think I look 25 (thank you Mama for the genes you gave me) maybe a side gig of stripping and damn maybe even a little sumthing sumthing extra will get elder boy’s college paid.

Nah, too old for that plus the spousal unit didn’t like that idea. I quickly nixed robbing banks since robbers never get much and you get caught and then you do 10 years in a federal prison. Bad idea as I am claustrophobic.

Instead once I calmed down and did some more research, I realized that since elder boy is a product of my first marriage that the ex and I will have to split costs and since ex-spousal man doesn’t earn a ton, that might bode well in dear son’s favor when it comes to financial aid. On the other hand I don’t earn a ton either but according to all the stats we are still solidly middle class, which I suspect will mean that the gubment will assume I can pay something on his education. Truth is I am middle class but broke as hell, shit since moving to Maine, I stay broke. Some days I want to be poor just so I can get some help, a friend of mine is going through a nasty divorce she was a stay at home Moms for years married to a man who earned 6 figures. Well now that they have split he is playing nasty and my girl who has two young kids had to turn to state aid in the short run. She called me the other days when she got her food stamp card and I will be honest for a second I wish I had a food stamp card. I know that’s bad but its how I feel.

All this to say what happened to the middle class in this country? its like we are a dying breed, i mean who thinks middle class folks can afford to send their kids to college for 50G a year… hello??? If you had that kinda scratch, what would you be doing for retirement?

Seriously at times it feels like there is no profit in hard work anymore in this country, you work hard and what do you get? Jack-shit.. As for the son, he will go to college, I suspect in the end his well off granny (my lovely ex-mother in law and I actually mean that) will probably make a sizeable contribution since she loves him to death and he is her only grandchild. Otherwise you might see a paypal button on this blog soon seeking donations to send elder boy to college so I don’t have to be an almost middle age stripper. LOL

On a different note, tonight’s the night.. time to see Sarah show us what she is working with. Am I the only person amped to see this train wreck? Hopefully mini-me will go to bed early.